Read an Excerpt
Grimston Way, England
31 October 1898
On the perimeter of the village green, a thick stand of ancient trees with half-clad branches trembled in the rising wind. Dark clouds obscured the cheerful face of the sun, and like a harbinger of events to come, a thunderhead cloaked the afternoon sky.
The first smattering of rain dribbled down branches to a crisp carpet of burnt-orange leaves. Though the countryside seemed draped with a fall gloominess, laughter still danced on the wind from children who joined hands and skipped in a large circle while singing “London Bridge
Is Falling Down” and giggling as they dropped to the damp grass.
A tall white cross graced the village green near the twelfth-century rectory of St. Graves Parish. Below the cross some of the village girls were adding last-minute touches to the outdoor fall decorations. Chains of red pomegranates, yellow gourds, and dried cornhusks, plus bundles of tied grasses and bunched leaves gave a warm touch of color to the festive gathering. This was October 31, Allhallows Eve, the yearly celebration recalling brave Christian heroes and heroines of the past who had faithfully labored for Christ. The outdoor activities in Grimston Way would end at eventide with the lighting of candles, a chapel service, and a friendly supper inside the parish hall.
Evy Varley, who had grown up as the niece of the now deceased
Vicar Edmund Havering and his wife, Grace, emerged from the ancient gnarled oak trees, where she had been gathering dried lacy moss hanging from ghostly branches. She was quite accustomed to the church holidays,
spring fetes, and summer bake sales, for she’d been reared to become a vicar’s wife, but Providence, so it seemed to her, had intervened,
and she’d been blessed to study music. She had recently graduated from Parkridge Music Academy in London and, by means of a loan from Rogan Chantry, had opened a small music school here in her home village.
As she paused to take in the view of the village green, however, she now felt strangely alienated, as though she were an outsider looking through a window at a nostalgic scene. Had she been affected by the sudden gloominess? Perhaps it was the odd restive spirit she had sensed for the past few days that seemed hidden in the shadow of her subconscious.
The sensation intensified to the point that Evy turned away from the singing children and looked toward the fast darkening Grimston
Woods. She suddenly remembered an incident in her girlhood—the day when a stranger had stood watching her from these very trees. The man had appeared kindly back then, even sad when he spoke to her, but she now experienced less benign emotions as the dark memory clouded her mind. There was nothing she could describe as out of the ordinary,
yet she remained conscious of an inexplicable unease.
She turned away and quickened her steps back toward the village green, seeking the children’s laughter and their innocent faces as they prepared for the evening’s festivities. Perhaps her wary mood was due to the season. September had been unseasonably warm and cheery, but the inevitable cold October weather had finally arrived.
Ahead, Evy heard grave voices coming from behind some old hemlock bushes. She recognized the voices of the twin Hooper sisters, Mary and Beth, who were students in her piano class. The two schoolgirls emerged from the bushes carrying wicker baskets filled with dried lavender and lemon grass, and their pretty blue calico skirts flared in the chilling breeze that sent leaves scattering about their feet.
They both wore spectacles and had corn-colored hair that was braided and looped. The only noticeable difference between them was that Mary wore a red-and-white polka-dot ribbon.
With them was Wally, son of the village carpenter, a tall boy with long arms and big hands, which he had shoved into his too-short, faded breeches. He was listening to the girls with his head bent, his longish brown hair ruffling beneath a floppy hat.
The three huddled together like guilty accomplices, with Mary’s solemn voice taking the lead, as usual. She seemed to be trying to convince
Wally of something.
“…it’s got to do with murder.”
Evy’s fingers tightened around her basket as a chill breeze reached the back of her neck.
“Murder runs in family blood, you know,” Mary stated matter-offactly.
“Science says so.”
“Poppycock,” Wally scoffed.
“Science is never wrong.” Beth nodded in grave agreement, adjusting the spectacles on her snub nose. “And Mary is always right.”
“We both are,” Mary agreed with a polite nod to her twin.
Evy remained still so the brittle leaves beneath her shoes would not announce her presence and embarrass them.
“Science ain’t always godlike, and murder don’t run in the blood,
’cept if you’re talking about sin. And sin be in the human nature of us all. Even the dowager, old lady Elosia Chantry. A more stuffy aristocrat you never seen than her.”
“That’s what I mean, Wally. Lady Elosia’s heard how Miss Varley was born out of wedlock.”
“You be meaning the wrong side of the blanket?”
“That is quite what Mary means.” Beth nodded knowingly.
“Lady Elosia wants Master Rogan to marry a lord’s daughter, Lady
Patricia Bancroft. That’s why Lady Patricia’s sailing to Capetown in the spring to marry Rogan. And there’s plenty the Chantrys wish to hush up about their family history. Henry Chantry was Miss Varley’s father.
He brought her back from Capetown and gave her away to Vicar
“So then, Miss Varley is Miss Chantry.”
“You just said Master Henry was her father.”
“He and her mum weren’t married.”
“So? He’d still be her father, you silly goose.” Wally’s voice became wearied.
“Well, that may be, but the vicar and his wife took Evy in out of kindness.”
“Everyone knows that. They had Christian hearts.”
“But…Henry Chantry died before his time!”
“Uds lud!” Wally said. “Everybody in Grimston Way has heard that old tale. He done kilt himself in his study on the third floor at
Rookswood. Room’s haunted.”
“He was murdered,” Mary repeated. “And Miss Varley’s mum from
Capetown is the murderess. Vengeance was the motive, because he betrayed her.”
“How could she have done it if she was dead already?” Wally mocked.
“Her ghost came and did the dark deed.”
The twins nodded sagely at each other and then at Wally.
“Even I know that’s impossible,” Wally scoffed. “Uds! Look, Twins,
it’s your mum. She’s beckoning.”
“If she learns we’ve been playing Scotland Yard again, she’ll take away our science books. Hurry, Beth.”
They ran across the green toward the rectory. Wally turned and headed for the road, as though he knew the twins’ mum did not approve of them being close friends with the carpenter’s boy.
An icy gust of wind took Evy’s breath away and sent the hem of her dark hooded cloak billowing around her ankles. She looked after them,
a little amused by the absurdity of their reasoning, yet disturbed as well about Lady Patricia Bancroft.
Was it true? Was she voyaging in the spring to Capetown to become
The dry leaves rattled through the overhead branches, while a withering blast of wind swept through her lonely heart, leaving desolation in its wake. Rain, like cold, wet fingers, spread across her face and neck.
Drawing up her shoulders in a little shiver, she lifted the hood of her cloak over her thick, tawny hair.
Any interest she’d had earlier in the candlelight supper at St. Graves parish hall was now extinguished. She must get away. She must think things through. Little else would solace her spirits except retreating to her beloved piano to play her favorite pieces. She could lose herself in
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, and her heart would stir with a desire to worship.
Evy hurried toward the road, keeping close to the hickory trees so as not to be noticed. It was to her advantage that most of the folks had deserted the green in order to congregate in the warm parish hall.
Questions beat like the wings of a trapped rook against her restless soul.
Yes, secrets and suspicions abounded around the Chantry family.
The theft of the famous Kimberly Black Diamond still remained unsolved after all these years. And then there was Henry’s mysterious death at Rookwood. The authorities had ruled it a suicide, but even
Rogan believed his uncle had been murdered.
The wind and cold rain drove against Evy as she slowly made her way up the dirt road that ascended to Rookswood Estate. She was soon soaked to the skin, her cloak billowing and whipping with each gust.
The wind filled her ears as it rushed through the great trees that loomed overhead like sentinels guarding the only entrance that led to the ancestral home of the Chantrys.
She neared her rented cottage, which stood well back from the road,
tucked among the trees, with Rookswood Estate as her nearest neighbor.
The bungalow’s isolation, however, did not trouble Evy. The cottage was perfect for her music classes, with room in the large parlor for her grand piano. In fact, the term cottage was rather misleading, since it contained six ample rooms and an attic.
She looked again toward the tall trees of Grimston Woods, now encroaching on the side of the meandering road and growing darker by the minute. She could imagine Rogan Chantry emerging from those trees riding his fine black horse, just as he had on the day she first met him, back when he’d been a spoiled, arrogant boy, determined to lord his station in life over her. She could see him now as that youth, his glossy dark hair waving past his forehead, his flashing brown eyes and taunting smile that insisted she would be his one day whether she liked it or not.
As Rogan grew up, however, he had matured and mellowed and had been much kinder to her. He had gone so far as to arrange a loan so she could complete her final year at the music academy. He had even given money through Vicar Osgood to start her own music school,
enabling her to live independently.
Will I ever see him again? she wondered. And if not, will it matter to him as much as it does to me?
A creaking sound broke her reverie, and as Evy approached the cottage,
she noticed the front wicket gate was open. The wind must have loosened the latch after she left for the rectory. The gate was swinging so hard that if it had a mind of its own, it should be quite dizzy. Her own feelings were being buffeted in much the same way. Wisdom argued with folly, and she knew wisdom should easily win, but when it came to her will, it was not so easy to yield her desires to the Lord. She must pray about that harder.
Despite the rain, she paused by her gate. From here she could look straight up the dirt road to the forbidding Rookswood Estate. The towering stone gate, weathered by generations of time and decorated with leering faces of medieval gargoyles, was bolted shut against her, serving as a stern reminder that Rogan Chantry was not only gone from Rookswood but also from her life—perhaps forever, if the Hooper twins were right.
The rain continued to descend in torrents, bouncing off those hideous stone creatures of man’s twisted imagination. Hee, hee, they seemed to mock with bulging eyes as the rainwater came gushing from their open mouths and over their protruding tongues. My own imagination is perhaps as wild, she thought. Even as a girl, in the company of
Rogan, she had not appreciated those gargoyles; nor did she now. She glared at them, then turned away and entered her yard, securing the gate latch against the tugging wind.
The sturdy cottage, with its white walls and green shutters, withstood the storm as bravely as it had for generations, but she noticed an open shutter on the high window near the peaked roof. The dark pane stared back, looking opaque and silent as the rain slashed against it.
She came up the walk past whipping vines that reached their tentacles toward her and shaking bushes now devoid of autumn’s golden flowers.
Rogan… Her feelings, unlike the twins who seemed to agree on everything, argued between desire and anger, but when it came to Rogan
Chantry, it seemed neither emotion won. Hadn’t it always been so—
even when she was a girl? There were times when her frustration over his failure to write made her angry enough to throw things, but she had been brought up too well for such childish displays of unbridled anger. On more frequent occasions it was not anger, but a deep longing she felt, a keen desire for Rogan’s company. Denied this, she at times wilted under an intense sadness that often reached the level of pain. One day she loved him and remembered in detail his fiery kiss good-bye, then she loathed him the next when the post delivery continually passed her by.
“No mail today, Miss Evy,” old Jeffords would call out when he came by in his pony-trap to deliver the post and saw her on the porch busily pretending to care for a potted flower. She was sure the news spread around Grimston Way how Miss Varley waited for an envelope postmarked from South Africa.
The barbed words of Mary and Beth claiming that Lady Patricia would leave in the spring to marry Rogan left her more distraught than angry. What if it were true?
Evy ran up to the front door and found her key in its usual place in the pot where one of Aunt Grace’s favorite geraniums grew, transplanted from the rectory. She steeled her emotions. I won’t think about Rogan.
But she knew she would; she usually did.
For some reason her door key always needed to move about in the lock until it finally clicked open. Battered by the wind and cold rain, she at last unlocked the door and rushed into the dry, comfortable cottage with a sigh and quickly closed the door behind her. Safety at last.
She hastened to remove her drenched cloak and sopping shoes, leaving them to drip on the rain cloth spread beneath the hat tree. She would put water on to boil, then change into some dry clothes. By the time she returned to the kitchen, the water would be just right to add the robust dark tea leaves. A nice hot cup with bread and butter would make her feel alive again, ready to enjoy a crackling fire and her music!
Remember that delightful evening at the Chantry Townhouse in London when Rogan played the violin just for you?
The memory made her pause for a moment, causing a small twinge of regret, then Evy shook her head and padded off to the kitchen pantry.
The kettle was where Mrs. Croft had left it. Enough water remained, so
Evy struck a match and lit the burner.
She set her jaw. If only she could come up with the money to pay
Rogan’s loan back. That would let him know she did not need him, that she was not mooning about, forlorn and wan, waiting for his crumbs of attention!
With the water on to boil, she went straight to her bedroom to dry herself and put on fresh stockings and a warm woolen dress. She brushed and pinned up her wavy, sometimes unruly, tawny-colored hair. Her amber eyes with flecks of green looked back at her from the mirror. In all honesty, she had no cause to deny that God had made her fair to look upon. It wasn’t wise, but she went ahead and compared herself to Lady Patricia, certain it wasn’t her own lack of charm that had detoured Rogan’s feelings.
Thunder muttered overhead. She hastened back to the kitchen and poured the boiling water into the pot. While the tea steeped she went to the parlor, where her precious piano awaited her. Here she would relieve some tension by playing her favorite pieces.
It was not to be, for a rush of wind invaded the parlor, scattering sheets of music across the piano and down to the floor. An open window?
Evy turned to see ballooning brocade draperies reaching to ensnare her.
She remembered now. The morning had been deceptively sunny,
and she had opened it a few inches to let in some fresh air. Oh dear, she thought, by now the rain will have blown in and wet the rug.
She hurried to close the window and was startled by a streak of white that flashed across the black sky, followed by a thunderous boom,
then rumblings through the darkened woods of Grimston Way. More rain followed, pounding the pane with fists like mystical goblins riding on the fall wind.
She wondered that her fingers shook, that she reacted so emotionally.
What is the matter with me? I’ve lived through hundreds of storms.
The wind swept over the cottage, howling, repeating the word she least wanted to remember at this moment. Murder.
Evy had been a small child when Henry Chantry’s life was taken.
The murderer, who’d managed to get away, still had Henry’s blood on their hands. Had the murderer located the Kimberly Black Diamond and escaped with it? The very thought rankled her because her mother had been blamed for its theft so many years ago. By now the perpetrator would be far from Grimston Way—there’d be no reason to stay.
Even so, her skin prickled at the thought. Nor could she keep the twins’
unlikely words that Henry was her father from churning in her mind.
What if he was? She paused, letting the implication flutter around in her mind before rejecting it. It couldn’t be true—that would make Rogan a blood relative.
Regardless of the silly talk about her mother coming to Rookswood to take revenge on Henry, someone may have done just that, but not
Katie—she had died along with Dr. Clyde and Junia Varley at Rorke’s
Drift mission station on the day of the Zulu attack in 1879. No one could possibly have survived that onslaught.
Overhead, a floorboard creaked, bringing her back to the moment.
Her gaze lifted to the attic. It’s just the dampness, is all, she told herself.
She remembered what Rogan said before sailing for the Cape. In spite of the authorities’ conclusion that Henry Chantry had taken his own life, he suspected otherwise, believing that someone in the extended diamond family may have killed him for more than the Black
Diamond. Why more? What could be more than that rare diamond from the Kimberly fields? The map? Ah yes, there was that. The precious map that Henry Chantry had left in his will to Rogan, promising gold on the Zambezi.
From Evy’s limited knowledge of the diamond dynasty family, the shareholders and inheritors consisted of Bleys, Brewsters, and Chantrys.
Never was there any mention of her mother’s family, the van Burens.
Evidently, Katie, under Sir Julien’s guardianship, had not been left an inheritance, which meant, of course, there’d been nothing left to Evy.
Not that she expected otherwise. Dreaming of diamonds had never been one of her weaknesses. However, she did care deeply about Katie’s reputation—and her own.
According to Rogan, who hadn’t explained how he knew, some members of each family were in England on the night of Henry’s untimely death. All seemed capable of the short trip from London to
Grimston Way to meet with Henry…and murder him?
The floorboard creaked again.
Evy snapped from her thoughts and turned toward the ceiling.
Rats? Ugh… Maybe, but this was a heavier creak. Footsteps? Now she was really allowing her emotions to run wild! Her musings about Henry were unsettling her nerves.
She rubbed her arms and glanced around her in the dimness.
Maybe she should have stayed for supper in the parish hall after all. A bit of company on a stormy evening would have restrained her imagination,
but she set aside any notion of returning to the rectory in weather like this. By the time she arrived, she would be soaked once again, and there’d be plenty of explaining to do, especially to Mrs. Croft, who treated her as if she were her own granddaughter.
Evy squared her shoulders. There was only one way to handle her edginess. If the Hooper twins and Wally could play Scotland Yard, well,
so could she.
She walked to the kitchen, where the tea was ready to pour, but instead of enjoying a cupful as she had intended, she went to the pantry.
A small table held the oil lamp. There were no windows, only a small vent for the warm months. She struck a match and lit the wick. A flight of steep steps beside the wall led to the attic. Holding the flickering lamp, she forced her spirit to bravery, lifted her chin, and climbed.
The wavering lamplight revealed yellow daisies on the fading wallpaper,
which appeared comfortably familiar in a moment like this.
Rain continued to lash the cottage walls. She could imagine a giant standing outdoors with booted legs apart, whip in hand, trying to bring the house down.
It was really quite silly to allow her nerves to imagine footsteps from just a few creaks in the attic floor! After all, who would wish to look up there? There was absolutely nothing of value—just some personal belongings from Uncle Edmund and Aunt Grace—certainly not the
Kimberly Black Diamond!
The wind plowed against the cottage, threatening to penetrate the weathered planks. The steps creaked beneath her feet, yet she was certain no one could hear her approaching over the noise of the storm.
She reached the final step and lifted the lamp. Standing near the door, she paused to rouse her courage again before stepping up to the small landing. The door whipped open, and she gasped.
A figure, apparently draped in a dark sheet, rushed at her with hands extended. A violent force shoved her and caused her to lose her balance. As she started to fall backward, she reached in vain for a rail that wasn’t there. The lamp crashed down the steep steps, and her head struck something hard.